News & Views
Millennial is not a dirty word

When Ogilvy & Mather CEO John Seifert travels the world, there’s a common theme in meetings and boardrooms everywhere: the belief in the power of millennials to change the world.

On Thursday at Ogilvy & Mather’s New York headquarters, that power was on hand during the Millennials in Marketing Summit, hosted by O&M’s Young Professional Network. The summit, which billed itself as the “first summit by millennials and for millennials in our industry”, featured millennials from a number of companies who spoke about how their generation’s ideas are shaping the world.

Seifert kicked off the event with a short remark, trumping up millennials’ potential while also heaping responsibility on the generation.

“The world is changing faster than we can adapt, and we need you to help us,” Seifert said.

People fall prey to using “Millennial” as a catch-all term, and the problem with catch-all terms is that they really don’t catch all. Millennials, like any other group, are a diverse bunch. Yet many of the night’s panelists and speakers seemed to agree on a few characteristics that apply to the group at large—they’re mission driven, are digital beings, and gravitate to authenticity and seek community.

These generally agreed upon characteristics of millennials have greatly influenced how companies have marketed to millennials, and how startups and entrepreneurs are building their businesses to serve them.

The founders of Daybreaker, Radha Agarwal and Matt Brimer, understand the millennial desire for community, and have tapped into that desire with Daybreaker, which brings the positive aspects of a nightclub experience—dancing, themes, and of course community—and have brought it to the beginning of the day rather than the end. For Brimer, the specific aspect of their community that works, and what perhaps may be most important for millennial communities, is the sense of participation. Simply providing a place for people to do something isn’t good enough, they need to be involved in creating the experience.

“Experiences” was a word that was said a lot throughout the night, especially during the first session hosted by The New York Times. Millennials grew up with advanced technology and are quick to adapt to disruptive technologies. Virtual Reality is certainly one of those technologies, one that is poised to revolutionize how people take in stories.

“A person who has lived an experience will be able to tell it better than anyone else,” Sydney Levin, Executive Producer at T Brand Studio said. And what sets it apart, Levin said, is that VR forces you to stop everything else you’re doing—while millennials may be the ultimate multi-taskers, VR is a one-task activity. “VR is the only thing in the world putting blinders on you,” Levin said.

VR and millennials seem a perfect match. Part of that is timing—millennials will watch VR evolve in real time But more so, what VR can promise is an immersive experience, and the crucial participation that Brimer mentioned which is elemental to millennial communities. Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of The New York Times Magazine spoke to VR’s participatory aspect, and how it’s changes the relationship between content provider and audience.

“People want to be in control,” he said. “You can’t determine where somebody is going to look. As a publisher [of VR content], you’re giving up control. It changes what it means to bear witness.”

Speaking on the final panel, Samantha Klein, Next-Gen Intrapreneur of IBM, also touched on the importance of experiences, referencing a recent article proclaiming the end of the Information Age.

“People don’t want to read about your life anymore,” she said. “They want to experience it.” Klein mentioned the fact that Facebook statuses are down, and Snapchat usage is rising. It’s evidence, she said, that people are gravitating away from telling people about their lives, but sharing it with them in real time.

The organizers wanted the audience to leave with the idea that millennial is not a dirty word. As with previous generations, there are assumptions made about millennials that are either untrue, or meaningless, or blown out of proportion (i.e., they’re lazy.) What can’t be denied is that millennials are in the process of shaping the world—as much the present as the future.

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